Promises Kept: On Judges, Three Cheers for President Trump, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans

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Posted: Oct 28, 2020 1:05 PM
Promises Kept: On Judges, Three Cheers for President Trump, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans

Source: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Amidst a swirl of shouting, falsehoods and threats from frustrated leftists, Senate Republicans calmly and thoughtfully voted to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court Monday evening. She was sworn in by Justice Clarence Thomas on the White House South Lawn within an hour of the vote. This series of events represented an exhilarating capstone to a truly extraordinary four years of achievement for President Trump and the Republican-held Senate. Trump ran heavily on the issue of judges and federal courts in 2016, as the SCOTUS seat vacated by the late Justice Antonin Scalia loomed over that election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided against moving on President Obama's nominee to fill that seat, placing a huge, apparently long-shot bet on a Trump victory.

That call was made easier by three factors: First, the historical precedent surrounding new vacancies in presidential election years under divided government. Second, the standard laid out by Democratic leaders over recent decades (prominently, Sen. Joe Biden in 1992 and Sen. Chuck Schumer in 2007). And third, Senate Democrats' recent "nuclear" escalation, which rightly erased any semblance of an appetite among Republicans to pay Obama an anomalous favor. But it was a dramatic and risky choice nonetheless. McConnell and his conference needed to hold the line amid withering criticism from Democrats and media members who wanted desperately to see Scalia replaced with a more "progressive" jurist. Taking a page from Democrats' hardball playbook, they didn't budge.

McConnell's long-shot bet has paid off beyond virtually anyone's wildest dreams. Trump shocked the world by defeating Hillary Clinton, and one of his earliest actions was to nominate Justice Neil Gorsuch to join the Court -- a stellar choice, who was confirmed after Republicans applied a previous Democratic power grab (the "Reid Rule") to break an unprecedented Democratic filibuster. At the end of 2018's SCOTUS term, Justice Anthony Kennedy surprised many by announcing his retirement, setting up another confirmation fight. What played out next was a shameful chapter, redeemed by McConnell and his team refusing to be cowed by the vicious circus of evidence-free, ideologically-driven allegations. Many conservatives had grown accustomed to seeing their side waver or crumble in the face of histrionics over the years. But in 2016, 2017, and 2018, McConnell's Senate Republicans stiffened their collective backbone and kept their promises, with the stakes as high as ever.

Another momentous test arrived a month ago with the seismic death of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What could have unraveled into a fractured conference and a messy failure instead turned into an astoundingly efficient, impressive, low-drama process to confirm Ginsburg's replacement. McConnell, who had cagily laid the rhetorical groundwork for such an opportunity all the way back in 2016, got his ducks in a row before an organized pressure campaign could be mounted and deployed. The votes, very early, were in-hand. The Constitution was on the GOP's side. Historical precedent and norms were on their side. And after a sparkling performance by Barrett during her confirmation hearings, public opinion was on their side, too. With just one (politically understandable) defection from their ranks, Senate Republicans voted to approve Barrett's nomination, a task made less complicated by their expanded ranks. The opposition leader had foolishly declared the 2018 Senate elections a "referendum" on Kavanaugh, and voters chose to pad McConnell's majority.

So where are we now? President Trump has nominated, and Senate Republicans have confirmed, three exceptional Supreme Court justices, representing one-third of the Court. President Trump has nominated, and Senate Republicans have confirmed, 53 circuit court judges, constituting nearly one-third of those extremely influential panels. In total, the Trump-McConnell pipeline has produced 220 new federal judges and counting. McConnell has said that his animating mission during this era of joint White House-Senate GOP control is to "leave no vacancy behind." He's taken that pledge extremely seriously. And when Democrats' chickens finally came home to roost on judges, following decades of shameless, unilateral provocations, Republicans were ready. Here are Leader McConnell's strong closing remarks prior to Barrett's confirmation, in which he laid waste to Democrats' indignant temper tantrums, justified by a delusionally dishonest alternative history:

I'll leave you with my tweet thread summary of the true dynamics:


Win or lose on November 3, the "leave no vacancy behind" project will go down as a major legacy for all involved. The president should be commended for pursuing this critical priority, and Senate Republicans -- led by McConnell -- should be applauded for their courage, focus and commitment. No small feat, and no small legacy.